Notes from the 2015 Texas Society of Architects Design Conference in Denton

Architecture Southwest
(Brantley Hightower)

O’Neil Ford’s Little Chapel. (Mia Frietze)

This year’s Texas Society of Architects Design Conference focused on the topic of craft and was framed by a discussion of noted regional modernist O’Neil Ford. It was held in the north Texas town of Denton where Ford began his professional career and executed several important early projects.

(Brantley Hightower)

Ford’s 1939 Little Chapel in the Woods. (Mia Frietze)

Unfortunately, a severe winter storm hit the region as attendees were making their way to the conference. With the chartered buses unable to make it to the hotel, tours were scrapped and lectures were relocated to the nondescript lobby of the hotel where attendees were staying. This allowed the talks to be attended both by sketchbook-wielding architects and by members of the Old Dominion University Basketball Team who were also staying at the hotel. Likely inspired by the subject matter, they defeated the University of North Texas 70 to 57.

(Mia Frietze)

(Mia Frietze)

Dr. Kathryn O’Rourke gave the opening lecture that located Ford within the larger narrative arc of the modern movement. The Trinity University professor spoke of the role craft came to play in Ford’s work beginning with his Denton projects.

Seattle-based Tom Kundig spoke the following morning about his body of work and of preserving a culture of craft within a 120-person firm. He described the difference between skiing on a prepared run as opposed to “Skiing the trees,” in a forest. He used this analogy to describe the profession, but it also was a fitting depiction for the conference.

Later that afternoon David Salmela described his search for what a craft-based architecture of northwestern Minnesota should be. Based in Duluth, Salmela refrained from giving his Texan hosts too much grief for their inability to function with only a few inches of snow and ice.

Although the lack of tours was disappointing, their cancellation allowed more time for the lectures and provided more opportunities for interaction between speakers and attendees. It also allowed Tenna Florian, who was scheduled to give a tour of Lake|Flato’s Josey Pavilion, to give a talk describing how craft can be used as a tool of sustainability.

On Sunday morning the roads had cleared to a point where attendees were able to visit two churches designed by Ford. The Conference ended with a panel discussion at Ford’s 1939 Little Chapel in the Woods. After exploring the building, attendees listened to a panel discussion moderated by noted Dallas architect Max Levy. The session proved to be a fitting end to a most memorable Conference.

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